Light Side The Feast of Fools in the Middle Ages
By Sal Writes, Medium 4/1/22
Jan 7, 2022 - 12:07:17 PM
This was a festival that was held on or around the first of January, particularly in France, during the Middle Ages. A mock pope or bishop was elected, church rituals were parodied, and low- and high-ranking officials swapped places; these proceedings were meant to celebrate the biblical principle that stated,
“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.”
The rituals that were a part of the festival were most likely Christian adaptations of pagan Saturnalia celebrations; they had devolved into a mockery of Christian morals and festivities by the 13th century, and survived well into the 16th century, despite repeated bans and penalties issued by the Council of Basel in 1431.
During the festival, performers would wear masks and ladies’ attire, sing obscene hymnal songs, get drunk, toss manure at bystanders, leap through the church, roll dice at the altar, replace prayer responses with ‘hee-haw’s instead of ‘Amen’s during the fake ceremonies, and engage in other heinous acts that mocked church liturgy.
A deeper analysis of the Feast and its aims reveals that it was a temporary social revolution in which individuals with power, riches, and dignity were usurped by the ordinary people via staging and foolish spectacles. A liminal area was thus created through which the ideas that were prevalent and popular at the time could solidify, oscillate, or extend.
According to some scholars, the festival was a ritual that provided the public with a regulated, safe space to release pent-up tensions that had arisen from being part of a hierarchical society. It was a day of purging.